Blown To Bits

John McCain’s Technology Policy

Thursday, August 14th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

We noted yesterday that McCain’s campaign has been promising a technology policy for a long time. It was finally put up on his web site today.

For the most part, it isn’t really a policy. It’s mostly vague, aspirational statements, many of which are in flat contradiction with each other. Example: (a) “John McCain will focus on policies that leave consumers free to access the content they choose”; (b) “He championed laws that ‚Ķ protected kids from harmful Internet content”; (c) “John McCain has fought special interests in Washington to force the Federal government to auction inefficiently-used wireless spectrum to companies that will instead use the spectrum to provide high-speed Internet service options to millions of Americans.” All fine things, if that’s all that is said. BUT the “policy” fails to note that the laws referred to in (b) have been overturned by federal courts because they unconstitutionally make (a) impossible. And the plan referred to in (c) is the one we blogged about several weeks ago, for a public Internet censored so ruthlessly that it couldn’t even carry an email that would be inappropriate for a 5-year-old.

These issues are not simple. Blown to Bits is largely about how hard it is to reconcile conflicting values. They can’t be reconciled by apple-pie rhetoric that leaves doubt the candidate even recognizes the tensions exist. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to complain about this sound bite from the prologue: “In the last decade, there has been an explosion in the ways Americans communicate with family, friends, and business partners; shop and connect with global markets; educate themselves; become more engaged politically; and consume and even create entertainment.” Nice metaphor, there.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing to me is the “policy’s” posture toward intellectual property: that it is something to protect. Does he realize how the explosion happened? McCain seems to be in the grip of the entertainment industry and the law firms. The Internet is the greatest thing ever invented for inventiveness by small businesses, and this is a big-business policy platform. Invention is being choked by our intellectual policy apparatus, and this platform would strengthen it, not relax it. I am not surprised by the absence of actual proposals about democratic empowerment, collaboration, and civic engagement that the Internet might support. But does McCain even realize that digital technology is going to be the wellspring of economic growth in the U.S. — and that won’t come just from making Disney and Comcast yet more powerful?

For an even more intemperate response to this long-awaited policy, read David Weinberger’s blog.

3 Responses to “John McCain’s Technology Policy”

  1. The Experts Weigh in on John McCain’s Technology Policy « Blurring Borders Says:

    [...] computer science professor Harry Lewis says of the policy, “It‚Äôs mostly vague, aspirational statements, many of which are in flat contradiction with [...]

  2. Blurring Borders » The Experts Weigh in on John McCain’s Technology Policy Says:

    [...] computer science professor Harry Lewis says of the policy, “It‚Äôs mostly vague, aspirational statements, many of which are in flat contradiction with [...]

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